Bridget Jones — the woman who once served blue plastic soup to her friends, isn’t that adorable? — is back. God help us. She is 43 years old, and both unmarried and childless, which many women would consider a blessing. But not Bridget Jones! In Bridget Jones’s Baby — which bears no resemblance whatsoever to Helen Fielding’s third Bridget novel, Mad About the Boy — she continues to fret about being a “spinster” and a “barren husk,” because in her head, the year is 1953, or maybe even 1853, and not 2016. She worries about coming across to men as a “verbally incontinent old maid”; she really does believe that the ideal woman is young, married, and keeps her mouth shut. While it is true that there are people in the world who hold to such nonsense — including, shockingly, some women! — the self-hatred it takes for a woman to apply this to herself is not endearing. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a woman wanting to be married and make babies, the desperation, the neuroticism, and the idiocy with Bridget wallows in this quest here are appalling. She is not cute. She is not charming. She is most certainly not the everywoman we are meant to accept her as.
Apparently the newspaper column by Fielding that later became those best-selling novels was meant to be satirical of the sorts of obsessions — weight, marriage, and motherhood — that women’s magazines assign to half the human race. But Baby, as with the first two films in the series, is wholly indulgent of those obsessions, in a wholly uncritical way. Bridget Jones — the character and the movies — infantilizes women and reduces women to baby-making adjuncts to men. No matter what else you’ve got going on in your life, Bridget Jones is here to remind you, you’re nothing without a man and a baby.
Bridget (Renee Zellweger: Case 39, Monsters vs. Aliens) does allegedly have her own life. She’s now working as TV news producer, which you might think is a position that requires integrity, a wide-ranging awareness of the larger world, and attention to detail. Not for Bridget! She’s ignorant (she fails to recognize a major pop star, a major dot-com billionaire, and a major political figure) and incompetent (she screws up more than one live interview because she is unable to focus on her work), and she uses her position for personal advantage. Only the putative villain here speaks the truth about professional Bridget: the new 20something hipster consultant (the very funny Kate O’Flynn: Mr. Turner, Happy-Go-Lucky) brought in to transform hard news into the TV equivalent of Internet clickbait dares to point out how terrible Bridget is at her job. (I think that’s meant to make us feel sorry for Bridget. I silently cheered.)
Personally, Bridget is beyond a mess. After personal encounters with two different men in the space of a week, Bridget finds herself pregnant. That’s a bit of a problem, but it’s how she deals with it that constitutes the mess. Of course she agonizes that her predicament makes her a slut, though a brief scene with her lovely dad (Jim Broadbent: The Legend of Tarzan, Eddie the Eagle) sets her right on that account; this movie needs a whole lot more of his pragmatism. (Emma Thompson [A Walk in the Woods, Saving Mr. Banks] as Bridget’s obstetrician mostly delivers smacking down of Bridget’s nonsense; there’s nowhere near enough of her, either.) But she hasn’t got the slightest bit of worry about what an idiot she is: she has reached the age of 43 without ever coming into contact with the idea that condoms expire after, you know, a decade or more in your purse. (This is part of the infantilizing.) And what’s her first clue that she might be pregnant? Even though a big point is made about how Bridget is now at her “perfect weight,” she decides to embark on an exercise regime to lose weight, but after a month she’s lost nothing. (Never mind that there are lots of reasons besides pregnancy that could account for that. But please, let’s keep reinforcing women’s fixation on their weight: even your “perfect weight” still isn’t good enough!)
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about Bridget’s exploits is how they ignore the realities of women’s lives — birth control can fail even when you use it perfectly — in favor of sitcom shenanigans. (The script is by Fielding, Borat and Bruno’s Dan Mazer, and Emma Thompson, though none of the withering wit of either of the latter two comes through at all. Director Sharon Maguire returns from 2001’s Bridget Jones’s Diary.) It would be quite simple for her to determine who the father is: Have the amniocentesis early on (she refuses because, like a two-year-old, Scary Needle!), explain to both men the situation, and do the DNA test right away. It’s not like there isn’t still tons of dramedy potential in that! But Bridget being kookily incapable of acting like an adult, this is not in the cards. So she strings along both Jack (Patrick Dempsey: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Valentine’s Day), the handsome American stranger she met at a music festival and enjoyed a night of fun with, and Mark (Colin Firth: Kingsman: The Secret Service, Before I Go to Sleep), the ex she ran into unexpectedly and had another night of fun with a week later, allowing each of them to believe that he’s going to be a father. (In case you were wondering, the other recurring man of her life, Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver, is out of the picture.)
Of course, Bridget being Bridget, she can’t even have nights of fun without handwringing and trauma and anxiety, and she’s even worse in the aftermath: she is continuously cruel to both men, neither of whom deserves to be treated this way. And still both men find her irresistible! She is unstable, irrational, and just plain awful, but Jack insists that she’d “be the greatest possible mother to my child” — they are total strangers to each other, so he has absolutely no basis upon which to make such a judgment, not that the film recognizes that.
No, Bridget Jones’s Baby keeps insisting that Bridget is just the most enchanting creature ever. She isn’t. She’s a nightmare. And just as both Jack and Mark should run screaming from her, so should anyone who respects women run from this movie.
A shorter version of this review appeared first at The List.